With each passing birthday, some wise guy asks if I'm finally going to retire. Oh, how I hate that question! I love my work, and I love to work. As it turns out, I'm part of an emerging demographic: the longevity revolution.
To learn more about this over-50 generation, I turned to a real expert in the field. My good friend Ken Dychtwald is North America's foremost visionary regarding the lifestyle, marketing, health-care and workforce implications of the 50-plus generation. American Demographics magazine honored him as the single most influential marketer to baby boomers over the past quarter century. He's the best-selling author of 16 books on age-related issues, available at www.agewave.com.
If that's not impressive enough, he's also a psychologist, gerontologist, documentary filmmaker and entrepreneur. He's devoted nearly 40 years to studying what happens when more and more of us live longer and longer.
Ken started his explanation by asking some basic questions: What happens to media, marketing and advertising that have been oriented nearly exclusively toward 18- to 34-year-olds when that age group diminishes in size and the 50-plus population, which has always been a throwaway group, suddenly has all the money and growth?
What business opportunities are going to emerge as we have new bunches of 50-year-olds, 60-year-olds, 80-year-olds, 90-year-olds, maybe 110-year-olds, in the years to come? How might that indeed be a new frontier?
Those are important questions. The widely accepted retirement age of 65 is a number that many consider "old." But Ken is quick to point out that 65 was established by Otto von Bismarck in the 1880s, when he was designing Europe's first pension plan -- and when the actual average life expectancy was 45! Clearly, 65 looks dramatically different in 2012.
That fact should shape the market, which we mostly think of as being shaped by young trendsetters, Ken says. But targeting young people is not the best strategy, because as that group ages, you have to go back and start over with the next group of young people. And they don't have the power or the money.
Ken argues that rather than focusing on trendsetters, we should turn our attention to the "influentials" -- the people whom other people take note of and want to be like. Young people are looking up to those who are successful, powerful and good at what they do. It is not true that kids have all the power in this country.
"Young people are broke and have been made more broke by the recession," Ken says. "If you do all the analytics on this last five years, the age groups that have gotten battered the hardest in terms of losing money, losing their homes, losing their jobs, are people in their 20s and 30s.
"People 50-plus have actually done not bad. Look simply at net worth, and the portrait becomes quite compelling. The older population, whether you like them or not, whether you want to be one or not, is where the money is. Seventy percent of all the wealth in North America and Europe is controlled by people over 50.
"The growth is coming from people in their 50s, 60s and 70s. What kind of industries will take off in the next decade?"
Then Ken unleashed another statistic that should refocus marketing strategies: The most entrepreneurism in the last 10 years in America has happened among 55- to 65-year-olds.
But he's not convinced that money is the ticket to a happy retirement. Some people work because they have to, but many continue working and exploring new careers because they like to. Perhaps they aren't planning to work full time, but they are looking for a good balance between work and leisure.
What do people really want? "It's freedom," Ken says. "I'm going to do what I want to do, how I want to do it, on my own schedule. People also want to be respected for their wisdom, for their power, for their coolness, for their influence, for their experience."
Ken Dychtwald gave me plenty to think about as I defer "retirement." And maybe even a couple ideas for my next career!
Mackay's Moral: We all have to grow up, but we never have to get old.